China's Premier Li Keqiang, on a tour of South America, is plugging a transcontinental railway project that would cut through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with the governments of Brazil and Peru, and Li is now pressing for an actual feasibility study. According to an interactive map on Diálogo Chino website, the "Twin Ocean Railroad" or "Transcontinental Railroad" would start at Porto do Açu in Rio de Janeiro state, and cut through the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Rondônia. It would terminate at Puerto Ilo in Peru's southern Moquegua region.
The route would bypass Bolivia but The Guardian notes that the project echoes the so-called "Devil's Railway," conceived as a link between Bolivia's remote Amazon territory and the Brazilian coast during the rubber boom a century ago, and abandoned incomplete.
Environmentalists are voicing concern at the idea being revived. Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch told The Guardian: "As with road projects, railways open access to previously remote regions, bring a flow of migrant workers inevitably followed by deforestation mafias and cattle ranchers, creating a perfect storm of pressures upon the forest and forest peoples."
Nilo D’Ávila of Greenpeace was more equivocal: "The good part is that it's an investment in a different mode of transport. But it seems to follow mining logic—first you build a road, then a hole. They need to guarantee it can be built without causing problems."
Li has other stops on the tour. In Colombia, he met with President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss expansion of Colombian exports to China, a Chinese bid to construct Bogotá's first metro—and the possibility of a railroad connecting Colombia's Pacific and Atlantic coasts. He is also to visit Chile. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce, said Beijing and Santiago will sign currency exchange deals and discuss upgrades to their Free Trade Agreement. (Colombia Reports, May 22; China Daily, May 14)